The Amityville Horror, 1979.
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg.
Starring James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Don Stroud and Murray Hamilton.
The Lutz family move into what looks to be their dream home in Amityville, Long Island. The family’s stay soon becomes a terrifying ordeal as supernatural forces from the houses dark past seek to drive them out.
In 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his family at their home in Amityville, Long Island, claiming that he was motivated by demonic forces living in the house. A year later, George and Kathy Lutz moved their family into that same house where they allege that they fell victim to a terrifying haunting by those same demonic forces.
It is the story of the Lutz alleged haunting that is the focus of today’s edition of October Horrors; The Amityville Horror.
The Amityville Horror is one of those kinds of horror films that attempts to draw audiences in with its bold claims to be “based on a true story”.
The veracity of the story depicted in the film has been widely disputed over the years, with many books and articles claiming that the Lutz scary story of torment at the hands of supernatural forces is just that; a scary story. However, that being said, even if the story is probably bullshit, it could still make for a decent film if approached with the right attitude. After all, the stories depicted by The Conjuring films are probably bollocks, but those films still succeed because of the entertaining and enthusiastic approach taken by the filmmakers.
Sadly, The Amityville Horror’s depiction of the Lutz “true story”, while boasting good performances, is possibly one of the worst things a horror film could be above all else; boring.
The acting is where the film is at its best with James Brolin leading the charge in a stand out performance as George Lutz, the family patriarch chosen to do the bidding of the demonic forces lurking in his new house.
Brolin brilliantly pulls off the disturbing transformation from a likeable family man to a temperamental bully terrorising his wife and step-children with growing levels of fury and malicious intent. The level of intensity that Brolin brings to the role, while often unnerving, is also a lot of fun, with his increasingly wide-eyed stares and menacingly low voice giving way to entertaining outbursts and howling cries of ‘I’M COMING APART!!!!!!!’.
Margot Kidder gives a solid performance as Kathy Lutz, who emerges as the film’s moral centre as she struggles to keep things together as her husband starts to “come apart”. While Kidder does a fine job with the role, compared to her on-screen husband, she is severely underutilised as she is left saddled with what often comes off as a rather one-note “worried wife” character that doesn’t afford her anywhere near the same opportunities to show off as much as Brolin.
If you’re looking for intensity though then look no further than Rod Stieger, one of the finest character actors of all time. Steiger gives a compelling performance film as Father Delaney, a priest who tries to warn the Lutz of the supernatural forces menacing them, with the legendary actor bringing his usual level of gravitas to what could have easily been a Father Merrin knock off, which in fairness, he kind of is.
My favourite scene of the entire film is when Father Delaney performs a prayer in church as demonic forces attempt to silence him. It’s a suitably powerful scene that lets Steiger does what he does best; scream his fucking lungs out. His bellowing screams packed with such ferocity and volume that it can crack a statue into pieces. Or probably it was demons doing that, but I’m not convinced.
Sadly, there just aren’t enough scenes like this, revealing what I consider to be one of the film’s biggest sins; Steiger’s lack of screentime. The man was one of the greatest character actors of all time and this film decides to devote most of his screen time having him either confined to his bed or acting like he’s been a week-long bender and nursing the unholiest hangover in history. This film’s misuse of a powerhouse performer like Rod Steiger is not just a waste of great talent, but it’s downright blasphemous.
While the acting is on point, the film’s pacing and scares are where things to start to fall flat. Although, that’s not to say that it does have some strong moments scattered throughout. The opening is one such moment, offering us a grisly recreation of the DeFeo murders, with the film’s clever editing that alternates between the rain-soaked exterior outside and increasingly blood-soaked interior of the home as gunshots echo throughout the thunderous rain-soaked night being suitably disturbing.
This unsettling sequence doesn’t cease with the end of the credits, with the violence continuing even to when the Lutz’s first check out the house. The film suddenly cutting between the Lutz’s entering various rooms and causally commenting and back to Ronald DeFeo murdering his family, his gunshots being replayed in grisly slow motion.
It’s a great opening that gets a firm grip on you, but as the film progresses into a slow meandering slog, that grip soon loosens considerably. Much of the rest of the film’s scares are either ineffective, such as a random stunt in which demonic forces cause a car accident, or downright weird as Father Delaney is confronted with an onslaught of flies. It just feels so dull and, especially after such a chilling opening, deeply disappointing.
The film’s climax is when things finally start to pick up again as Brolin finally snaps and attempts to murder his family. Weirdly though, this sequence served to remind me of The Shining with blood pouring from the walls and Brolin trying to chop his way through a bathroom door with an axe. All that’s missing is a ‘Heeeere’s Johnny!!’. However, despite the terror of the finale, it all comes too late in the game and feels like the film-makers are in a mad dash to wrap things up.
The Amityville Horror is a very mixed bag. The performances from the cast are solid, with James Brolin dominating proceedings with his entertaining descend into madness. The story, while possibly untrue, is still fascinating with plenty of potential lurking within. Sadly you only catch glimpses of that potential, with the film peaking early and taking far too long to get going again, with it quickly becoming a tedious and deeply disappointing sit.
Check it out if you’re curious. At the very least, it’s bound to be better than the 23 (and counting) other Amityville films. Except maybe for the one with the killer lamp.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★